BLOG - Peace Making Lessons from Northern Ireland to Israel and Palestine: 11 - Developing a common language and neutral terms for the drafting of a settlement
Colin Irwin Tue 10 Jul 2012 updated: Fri 13 Jul 2012
Peace Building Problem.
During a conflict the language of political rhetoric and in particular the names of institutions, events and places develop separately within each community to produce distinctive vocabularies, symbols and meanings that are part of their different identities. But a settlement requires one agreed terminology that transcends the polarised and sometimes inflammatory vocabularies of the various communities and parties to a conflict.
Northern Ireland Experience
The detailed drafting of the 'In Search of a Settlement' questionnaire did not only facilitate the formulation of issues but also the development of a common language and terms acceptable to all parties. The methodology of requiring all parties to agree the questions demanded nothing less. Both sides had to adjust their rhetoric, at least for the purposes of an agreement. For example Republicans liked to refer to the Republic of Ireland as the 26 counties, Northern Ireland as the 6 counties and the whole island together as the 32 county Ireland or Eire as none of these terms implied partition. On the other hand Unionists wanted to use the terms 'Northern Ireland' and 'Republic of Ireland' as they recognised partition. Although these terms tended to be used for international legal reasons most parties also agreed to use the terms 'North of Ireland', 'South of Ireland' or simply 'North' and 'South' as well as 'Island of Ireland' for the both together. Similarly the idea of having a 'Council of the British Isles' had been floated around for some years by Unionists. This Council would be comprised of representatives from England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. But the Republic was not 'British' although many maps referred to this group of islands, off the North West coast of Continental Europe, as the 'British Isles'. Providing the term 'British' was dropped the concept was acceptable and the 'Council of the Isles' was born and subsequently got drafted into the Belfast Agreement.
Public Opinion Poll Action
Draft, draft and redraft the questions to be run in each poll with the political contact group until a consensus is reached with regards to all terminology to be used. Necessarily inflammatory and partisan language will have to be replaced with neutral terms if the answers to the survey questions are not to produce biased results that would prejudice the outcome of the research.
Israel and Palestine
When I first started to extend my work on the Northern Ireland peace process to Israel and Palestine in the 1990s Israelis strongly objected to the use of the term ‘Palestinian’. At conferences in Israel the preferred term was Arab and Israelis who used the term Palestinian would open themselves up to severe criticism from their colleagues. This situation has changed over the years with Palestinian now far more acceptable than it was, but separate terminologies sometimes still had to be used in the 2009 Irwin/OneVoice poll. For example: ‘West Bank and Gaza’ in Israel and ‘Palestinian or Occupied Territories’ in Palestine. Peace in the Middle East requires a common language and every agreed common term brings the conflicting parties one step closer to a comprehensive peace agreement. However difficult the negotiations we never ran a question in Northern Ireland with two separate vocabularies.